Quarantine Diaries, Chapter 8: Phoenix in Ashes

Setbacks: The Wages of Ageing

What a difference a week makes.  At the close of last week’s diatribe, we were optimistically hopeful that our personal lives would be isolated from the collective madness sweeping the world and that the physical issues would soon resolve so we could go on with our modified adventuring.  And, it looked so: I was told by my doctor that no new tests were warranted, and the chiropractic session went well, I began to walk farther, with only one hand on the cane, and even tried sleeping in a bed, though the chair worked better, yet.

After a short venture from home on Wednesday, I was emboldened to accompany Judy on a longer walk on Thursday, a nearly 3  km loop, leaving me with more of a limp by the time we shuffled up the hill to our bungalow on the first bench up the hill known as Angleside, not for the steep grades, but for the developer, Grant Angle, founder of the Mason County Journal and the Angle Insurance Agency, in the 1890s.

We decided to get a bigger table for the porch, so we could enjoy outdoor visits with family in the summer.  We found a sturdy office break room round table at Habitat Restore, which was perfect, and only $20.  We wedged it into the truck on top of the bed and against the bicycle, and went home.  Unpacking, maneuvering around the cars, and up the sidewalk went well, until the second step up to the porch…

The “new” porch dining table that cost $30 to buy and several hundred in medical bills to get onto the porch.

Now, I’ve touched 120 volts 60 Hz AC, a strong reminder to not grab there; I’ve taken 450 volts DC, which blew me across the room and against the wall, and left a tiny burn on my finger.  But, this was like stepping on  a 440-volt 400 Hz AC main line: a twist and pull with weight on the right leg pinched my sciatic nerve hard, sending a jolt from hip to toes, and the pain didn’t stop.  My “broken leg” sensations intensified.

Judy managed to get the table the rest of the way up the stair by rolling it end over end, and I ended up with a fitful and sleepless night in  my chair.  Exhausted by morning, I took one of the left-over opioids from the emergency room visit and slept for an hour or so in bed, waking with excruciating pain.  After consulting with the call-in line at Kaiser, we headed for the Urgent Care in Olympia.  Walking gave out 10 meters from the entrance, so Judy commandeered a wheelchair to get me into the building and down the hall. The pain subsided long enough to get processed in and interviewed, with minimal hands-on exam. The doctor prescribed a bit stronger anti-inflammatory, Aleve (naproxen sodium), the nurse gave an injection of Toradol, a strong anti-inflammatory only administered in medical facilities, and I went home, still in pain, wheeled out to the car.

By the time we got home, I couldn’t walk, even with the cane in both hands.  Judy brought a chair down to the end of the sidewalk, and I bumped a few inches at a time, holding the chair, to the stair, then scooted up on my backside, then pulled myself into the house with the help of a chain of dining room chairs for support.

Facing the prospect of another 3-4 weeks of confinement, the new laptop fan arrived, direct from the Chinese factory, so I can keep the computer close to my chair without the buzzing fan keeping me awake.

By 1:00 am on Saturday, I was writhing in pain on the floor.  Kaiser 24-hour hot line advised returning to the Urgent Care, which we did, first thing in the morning: Judy pushed me to the end of the sidewalk in an office chair, and dropped me off at the clinic door, returning with a wheel chair.  After announcing I was returning for pain management, I was quickly ushered in and finally given a fairly thorough examination, which more or less identified the locus of the impingement (not in my spine, thank goodness), assurance that most, if not all, the pain was referred and not due to any physical trauma, even if it had felt for three weeks like I had a broken leg.  I was given an injection of a powerful painkiller, again, hospital use only, and a prescription for a cocktail of heavy-duty anti-inflammatories and non-narcotic and narcotic pain blockers, with a month-long schedule for building up and tapering down dosages of each, with narcotic use to be at a minimum, for as short a time as possible.

It has wheels, brakes, and handlebars, but a poor substitute for a bicycle, but necessary for transportation around the house and essential to get to the car for the rare excursion outside the house, only once in the week since re-injury, to deposit a check from a client. They’re all pro bono now, so it was only an expense reimbursement, but still, the first “income” in a long time.

On the way home, we picked up a walker I had spotted at the thrift shop on our Thursday walk, for $30, a bargain for a $100 piece of durable medical equipment, and it was the perfect size and in fair condition (sticky brake cable).  That walker has been my transportation in the week since, no doubt speeding recovery and contributing to comfort: bathroom trips no longer end in agony by the time I get back to my chair prison.  But the carefully metered massive drug doses do, as the Huey Lewis song goes, “Make me feel nine feet tall, … make me crash my car.”  As if I could actually make it to the car without collapsing.  Ditching the opioids after four days led to two days of erratic sleeping, munchies, uncharacteristic thirst, and generally feeling like an indigent addict sleeping on the street.  I did manage to help in the kitchen a little bit by Wednesday, thanks to the walker.

The Dude Abides. Confined to his recliner, but with the handy thrift shop walker close by and a lap desk cobbed together from scrap, Larye takes a break from blogging and answering computer systems questions on-line to binge-watch sci-fi series we missed during the decade and a half we had no television.

So, it looks like we’re in this for the long haul, taking care of each other through better or worse, and accepting that convalescence from the rigors  of life may take more time and not come back 100%.  I’ve managed to cob together, with Judy’s help to scrounge through my pack-rat collection of wood scraps, a makeshift lap desk to make computing from the recliner comfortable, and we’ve temporarily at least removed rugs and runners to make wheeled traffic easier.  Our plan to stay in prime health and maintain fight or flight agility through regular exercise is, for the next few weeks, and maybe beyond, on hold, and our contact list grows with every mask-to-face and mask-to-mask encounter in medical facilities.

The Wider View

Saturday, Day 2 of Quarantine Phase 3: State Street in downtown Olympia, our state capital, fills with motorcycles on the cruise. Following behind, the concentration of unburned hydrocarbons and Volatile Aromatic Compounds was overwhelming, but that’s another issue.

As the quarantine restrictions are lifted and others imposed–and opposed, by many of our fellow Mason County citizens–venturing out becomes a scary proposition.,  We wear our masks and continue to limit contact and shopping, but so many visits to medical facilities is problematic, as well as requiring some preliminary phone or on-line triage in the first place to get admitted.  Our chiropractor relies on temperature checks to avoid exposure, but we still wear masks when treated, though many others in the waiting room, along with staff, do not.

There seems to be several different approaches to the pandemic, dividing the population into three incompatible groups:

1.  Maintain mask protocols, cleaning, and social distancing rigorously to avoid contracting the virus until an effective antiviral or vaccine is readily available and effective.

2.  Monitor temperatures, and isolate if possibly infected, notify contacts to check themselves also, to limit spread by only isolating known cases and their contacts.  If you get sick, you will either get better or die.  A vaccine or cure is too uncertain to stop the world and wait.

3.  Fake News! Open the economy.  If people get the virus and die, it’s better than if more people starve because there’s no work and no government relief, which they wouldn’t condone because that’s Socialism and they’d rather die than live in a Socialist country or pay taxes to help their less-fortunate neighbor get through a crisis, to keep the community together.  If an elected official of the opposite political party directs an action, resist it, no matter what the consequences.

So it goes.  The Second Civil War gathers momentum, but, instead of subtitled the War of Northern Aggression, this time it will be the War of Intolerable Liberalism.  Racism is fighting back against the Black Lives Matter movement.  Police racially-based violence is being augmented by lynchings and random attacks by white supremacists.  This is finally their time, after all the shouting, gun collecting, and rallying that has been ignored by the government and even embraced by the current administration, which is no longer a democratic institution, but a textbook model of an organized crime family.  As the country visibly crumbles, and isolation intensifies, former allies are shunning us, and our rivals, military and economic, consolidate power and undermine from without.

The only hope is that the environment will heal itself despite ignorance, if the inevitable significant population reduction lowers carbon emissions.  Unfortunately, the ones with the guns are the ones who want to increase carbon release.  But, they are also the ones without face masks, so nature holds the scales.  As noted by Jared Diamond in his book of the same name, “Guns, Germs, and Steel” will determine, as subtitled, “The Fates of Human Societies.”

Quarantine Diaries, Chapter 7–Götterdämmerung

As the country hopefully moved toward transitioning to Quarantine Phase II around Memorial Day, things did not go as planned…

We stayed home on the Memorial Day weekend, expecting traffic and crowds to materialize everywhere.  I had a little twinge of sciatica on the left, probably from our aggressive neighborhood hike with the grandchildren on the Friday before.  But, getting out for a walk on Tuesday worked out the kinks, and I was fine.

Maidenhair Fails, West Fork, Wynoochee River

On Wednesday, the “need to wander” bug hit, so we planned a drive out to remote Lake Wynoochee, 60 km north of Montesano, and maybe a bike ride or hike.  Heading out past Deckerville, where we have been riding our bike, we headed out on Cougar Smith Road, the shortest route from Shelton.  Unfortunately, the last 4 km of the 10-km long road runs through private logging land, which was being worked, so we turned back, driving down to Brady and Montesano, before heading north again.  At the lake, the road turns to gravel.  We continued on north of the lake to the bridge across the river, where we parked and set off on a short hike of a kilometer or so, up the canyon on the west fork to Maidenhair Falls.  There were a few campers in the unimproved but approved camping areas around the bridge, and a few recent footprints on the trail, but we saw no one.

Footbridge over the gorge at Maidenhair Falls

The falls were at the head of a deep cleft through the rock, with an old wood bridge just below the falls, which were mostly obscured by recent tree falls across the creek.  Nevertheless, it was an idyllic forest scene, with the roar of the largely unseen cascade through the cleft. On the way back to the car, we took a side route to the now broad and slow river near the fork, checking out the camping area, thinking we might come back for a longer stay.

We headed home, 125 km by the route through town, while we had come at least 200 by taking the “shortcut” that was closed.  This was a longer drive than we’d been on all year, and more mileage than we’d put on altogether since the start of the Troubles.  So, on Friday, we decided to drive into the city and refuel at Costco in Tumwater, though we didn’t intend to shop in the store, having mail-ordered everything from Costco over the last three months.  But, it would give us an opportunity to ride our bike on the country roads to the south.

After topping off the tank on the truck with a whopping 95 liters, we parked at Home Depot and rode over the pedestrian/bike overpass over I-5, then down along the freeway, passing through the industrial park on the west side of Olympia Airport and down Case Road, which crossed the Freeway again about 10 km south. Turning west at Maytown toward Littlerock, I had forgotten to shift down, and the push-off from the stop sign was met with huge resistance. I managed to shift down after one revolution, but it was a shock.

We continued on to Littlerock, stopping at the [closed] Littlerock Elementary School for a water and banana break before dashing up the more heavily-travelled Littlerock Road, which, fortunately, has a wide shoulder.  Entering Tumwater, the road traverses a series of traffic circles.  Instead of dismounting and pushing across on the walkway, as we sometimes do when riding in traffic, we sprinted through each one, back to the truck, a bit over 30 km ride.   We were anxious to get home, since we hadn’t had lunch, but only our mid-ride snacks, so we skipped our usual post-ride electrolyte, which helps flush lactic acid from the muscles.

I had a bit of tightness in my back from all the driving, which I noticed a bit on the bike as well.  Later that evening, I began to experience a sharp burning pain in my lower right leg, and twinges of sciatica down my right hip.  Lying in bed was painful, so I got up and slept in my recliner downstairs.  In the morning, it was still painful, and difficult to walk.  The pain persisted all day, and I prepared for another night in the chair, sleeping fitfully despite the pain.  But, by 3:00 am, it was obvious that I shouldn’t wait until the doctors offices and clinics opened on Monday to call for an appointment, so I called the 24-hour hotline and got directed to go to the ER in Olympia,  When we showed up at 5:00am, the lockdown rules kicked in: Judy wasn’t allowed inside, so she went home to await my call, and I tied on my home-made face mask, grabbed my cane, and limped in.  After a brief chat with the attending physician, I was wheeled out into the hallway to make room for incoming patients, then to the Ultrasound lab to check for blood clots, for which I had been hospitalized there six years before.  Not surprisingly, they found none, and I was wheeled back out in the hall, in the midst of EMTs lined up with their patients, all awaiting exam rooms.  Finally, I was given a prescription for a light dose of narcotic and a light dose of acetomeniphen, about 1/3 of what I normally took for arthritis, and sent out to wait for Judy to arrive.

Well, the pills did next to nothing, so by evening, I was back on my normal meds: Tylenol, which also did little to ease the pain. I spent another fitful night groaning in my recliner.  On Monday, I made a reservation to see my primary, physician, for a followup, which got scheduled for later in the week.  That visit went pretty much in the normal way: Judy was allowed to accompany me: the waiting room had half the chairs turned to the wall, to enforce distancing, and everyone was masked, including us.  Given a diagnosis of “probably sciatica,” I got a prescription for a muscle relaxant and advised to see my chiropractor and do some massage to relax painfully tight muscles in my lower leg.

The pain went on, the pills only lasted a couple of hours: the most effect was from taking my usual turmeric latte in the morning, which I’ve been using for arthritis for the last year or two.  The chiropractor said take turmeric two or three times a day if needed, worked on relieving the sciatica, but I was still concerned with the severe pain in my  lower leg, and sought yet another look by my primary.  By now, two weeks had gone by, with me unable to walk unaided.  A trip to the bathroom or attempt to lie down resulted in a prolonged period of severe pain, and some definite swelling in the right foot.  But, another adjustment helped with the hip and thigh pain, and the leg pain subsided some during the day, and I was able to sleep in my chair for more than 90 minutes at at time between pain attacks.  I’m thinking I did some muscle damage trying to accelerate a 500-bound bicycle in high gear, since the pain is centered on the muscle that pulls up when clipped into the pedals.  Monday, a second, or third, or fourth look.  Hopefully, I will be able to walk without a cane real soon, or stand long enough to cook and help around the house, and it would be a bonus to be able to ride the bike again.

Meanwhile, the news of the world was not good, either.  Yet another police brutality incident resulted in yet another needless death in an obviously racial-motivated act.  The country exploded.  During this period, battalions of police in riot gear were gassing, beating, and bombarding peaceful protesters, bystanders, and journalists alike with 40-mm rubber bullets, with no provocation other than assembling without a permit.  In the confusion, persons with lesser motives began looting and burning.  Minneapolis, Seattle, and other cities were on fire, and would-be protesters in Washington DC were gassed, shot, and beaten to clear the way for the President to pose holding a Bible in front of a church in an undeclared transition from a constitutional representative democracy to a nominally Christian police state.  In a flash, the Republic was over.  Locally, a small chunk of Seattle, a long-time counter-culture center, effectively seceded from the city, declaring itself an autonomous zone.  Civil War II is underway, whether anyone realizes it or not.  Or, rather, the flimsy truce of 1865 has gone from a 155-year-old Cold War to a full revolution, as the old state collapses in an unthinkable and willful abandonment of the Constitution that has survived for 232 years, even through the last fragmentation of the Union 160 years ago.  Over the weekend, vigilante armed militias gathered in Albuqueque, ostensibly to help the police put down insurrection, but ran afoul of law enforcement themselves when they started playing with the definitely lethal variety of bullets.  So it goes.

And, the pandemic surge is beginning to rise again, as the civil unrest and premature relaxation of quarantine rules takes effect to throw crowds together again.  Exhausted, we finally braved a trip out to order take-out at the local pizza place, only our second “dining out” experience since early March.  Since my infirmity, Judy has been to the grocery for the first time in three months, and has had to take walks on her own for the first time.  I haven’t been able to do much, but finally managed to wind warp to braid ties for another round of face masks, since we are getting out more, mostly for trips to medical facilities.  I sewed the first round of masks, and Judy sewed the next, so my contribution has been the ties, for which I finally studied and learned to use my marudai (Japanese braiding stand), which I bought for a workshop that has been canceled twice in as many years for natural disasters: snow and pandemic.

Another trip to the chiropractor on Friday brought a bit more relief, as well as doubling up on the turmeric, but still in the chair over the weekend.  Finally, on Sunday evening, after a late dose of turmeric, the ache subsided and I managed to sleep most of the night.  By the time I was ready to go to the clinic for my appointment, the pain and ache had dissipated, leaving just a twinge and a bit of weakness and limited range of motion.  So, no expensive radiological tests, no more “better living through chemistry,” just need to do stretching, i.e., get back to doing a regular yoga practice, neglected these three months of lockdown and isolation.  Looking forward to actually being able to lie down without spasms of pain, after 17 nights in my chair.  We’ll try some slow walking on flat ground to see how that goes, and maybe next week a spin around the airport on the bike.  Baby steps.  The only thing worse than getting old is not getting old.

Map of cellular outages on 6/15/2020.

Epilogue:  Our grandsons came by on Monday for a round of board games.  We’ve been getting together every few weeks, after periods of mutual quarantine, so it should be safe enough.  A while later, I got a frantic Facebook chat from our daughter-in-law: she had been trying to check to see if they arrived safely, but the phones were down.  We later found out that the cellular networks in the entire country were down most of the afternoon.  Might this be a test?  After all, you can’t live-stream the apocalypse if the cellular system is off-line.  Not too paranoid a concept after the horrific on-the-scene feeds from the protests against police violence that were met with–wait for it–more police violence, along with unmarked federal squads and unarmed national guardsmen who served only to shield the police from brick-throwing during protest demonstrations that mysteriously turned into riots, complete with looting and burning, and piles of bricks that turned up in an area with no visible construction projects.  We have, in the age of cries of “Fake News,” at last come to the end of truth.  What actually happened in the Plague Years in the third decade of the 21st century may never be known.  But, eventually, when the flames die down, the world will be rebuilt and start anew, the Twilight of the Gods again a myth, a fantasy tale retold symbolically in grand opera in some distant future, when crowds flock to the shores to celebrate life and marvel at the crumbling sunken cities of a lost age.

‘Rona masks


Quarantine Diaries — Chapter 6: Back to the Future

The biggest changes in society during this brave new world of social distancing involve three things that are novel to most people, but have been a way of life for us for a long time:  Bicycling, Working From Home, and the Meat Crisis.

With the difficulty of social isolation on public transit, the bicycle has had a resurgence of popularity for both recreation beyond walking distance and commuting to work, first for essential workers, and now for those returning to work or possibly finding new sources of work closer to home.  And, of course, the concept of working from home, common among self-employed persons before, but a rare and contentious activity for employees, is becoming a permanent fixture for all activities that were formerly done in rows of cubicles in an office building, using computers and telephones.

We’re retired now, so we don’t commute to work, but all of the above has been a way of life for much of our careers: for me, as a bicycle commuter since 1976, when possible, and for both of us with bicycling for recreation.  We’re also well-versed in working from home: for Judy, having her own craft business, and me, as both an employee and as an independent information technology consultant off and on over the last thirty years.  And, we’ve been on a meatless diet at home for at least 15 years, so that’s not an issue for us, either.

So, how does one cope with these new facets of daily living?

Bicycle commuting:

It’s important to have a sturdy bicycle, but not an expensive one, for commuting.  You most probably will need to leave the bicycle outside your workplace, so it shouldn’t be too attractive, and have a good lock.  Kryptonite makes some of the best locks: they are expensive, but so is replacing  your bicycle multiple times. Two locks is better than one, and should pass through both wheels and the frame, if possible, and attach to something at least as difficult as the bicycle or locks to cut through. Don’t leave anything on the bicycle that is easily removable without tools, or it will be removed by someone else.  If you are fortunate enough to have a place to store your bicycle inside, do so.  If you have a wire basket on your bike, simply wheel it in the store with you shopping, and use the basket for a shopping basket.  Shoppers are allowed to bring their own wheelchairs and electric carts in the store.  Your bicycle is your “mobility device” if someone questions it.  At the very least, if you can’t use your bike as a shopping basket, ask the store manager if you can leave it in the cart area, as long as it doesn’t block the store carts or mobility devices.  it is less likely to be tampered with or stolen if it is inside the store.  The risk of theft is probably the biggest argument for not using a bicycle for transportation.  If more people want to bicycle, it will become necessary for employers and businesses to provide secure parking spaces for bicycles.  When traveling by bicycle, we’ve sometimes had “valet parking” at hotels, so it wasn’t necessary to take the bicycle to the room.  Ask.

A commute of 3-5 miles should be easy enough for anyone starting out, as long as you don’t push hard and are in reasonable shape to walk a mile.  It’s a good idea to practice in the evening or on a weekend and scout out a safe route before joining the rush hour commute.  The first time I commuted to work on a bicycle, in 1976, I nearly fell down getting off the bike, my legs were so shaky.  But, by the end of the week, cycling five miles was a perfectly normal thing to do.  For a commute of this length, with a moderate pace, your street clothing or work clothing and a helmet should be sufficient.  If you use the commute as part of your cardio exercise routine or it is farther than 5 miles, consider getting specialized clothing meant for bicycling: jersey with rear pockets and a bit longer in back to cover your back when hunched over the handlebars, padded shorts or tights, and shoes made for bicycling, with a stiff sole over the pedal axle.  Fingerless cycling gloves and safety glasses/sunglasses complete the wardrobe, and add a lightweight rain jacket or cape if it rains often where you live.  Get fenders fitted on your bicycle, and white and red lights to replace or augment the reflectors that came with your bike.  Rechargeable LED lights are best.  Use them, even in daylight: bicycles are hard for drivers to spot in traffic, even if they are looking for them, which few are.  Carry at least a frame pump, tire spoons, and an patch kit, and learn how to patch a tire.  C02cartridges and an inflation tool are light-weight and convenient, but I’ve never used one.  A handlebar bag to carry your wallet and lunch is convenient, otherwise use your jersey pockets.  A water bottle in a cage on the frame is good for warm-weather commuting of more than five miles.  Most commuting is along the edge of roadways, where there is lots of debris, including metal scraps and glass.  Allow plenty of time to get to work.  With practice, one can repair a flat in 5 to 10 minutes, but it usually takes longer.  Overall, you may find that bicycling to work takes no more time, and maybe less time, than taking public transportation, for almost any length commute.  In my work years, my commute varied from a kilometer to nearly 30 kilometers.  The shortest commute took less than 4 minutes, the longest commute took between 65 and 90 minutes, depending on weather, season, and time of day.  In many cases, there was no public transit.  In other cases, bicycling saved as much as 45 minutes to an hour over taking available public transit, even for a short commute.

Working from home:

Set up a place in your house that is your “work place,” separate from where you sleep and eat, and preferably not where other family members will gather.  Avoid distractions.  It helps to “dress for work” to get into the proper attitude for work.  Keep regular work hours, even if you work on projects that don’t require time constraints.  One of the biggest problems with working from home is that you never leave work.  It helps if you can create an office space that you can close up when you are “off duty.”   Working from home usually requires a good computer system, high-speed Internet access, good telephone service, and a good printer/scanner.  Your employer may require you to use a Virtual Private Network to connect to the office computer network, for security reasons.  You should have a computer dedicated to work, to which no other family members have access, and answer the phone professionally during working hours.

When you work from home, if you use a laptop and cell phone, like most of us do these days, you can also work from other locations. You can take breaks during the day to run errands or engage in exercise programs, as long as you have the option to do so, and still get in the work hours and produce the results expected of your employer. You can use the time you would have spent commuting to start early or continue working late, take a long lunch hour, and still have evening time for your family or relaxation.

Our rather messy office for two. In our case, there is not just two computers, but four, plus several others that are “appliances,” without a direct monitor/keyboard attachment. Using a home office gives one a much broader choice of layout and decor than the “cubicle farm” modern office building.

In the early 1990s, I would take a portable computer, modem, printer, and fax machine for a week at a lake resort, get up early and work from 6:00 am to 2:00 pm (most of my clients were on the east coast, and I was on the west coast, so the times were convenient), then spend the rest of the afternoon enjoying the resort amenities, for a working vacation.  There was no Internet or cell phones in those days, so everything was dial-up to company computers, land-line  phone calls, and FAX, but it was still possible to work remotely.  It is much easier today, and virtually seamless.  All you need is a laptop.  Internet access via WiFi is free at most hotels, and at libraries and coffee shops.  Depending on your service provider at  home, you may have Internet access via hot spot points throughout most cities and businesses, using your home Internet account credentials, or, for more secure access or when WiFi isn’t available, you can “tether” your smart phone to your laptop with the phone charging USB cord, or the WiFi hot-spot built into your phone, and use your cellular data plan, if your provider supports that feature.  As I told my clients when we moved from Montana to Washington State 10 years ago, “You know, that server room down the hall, that I seldom go into, where the systems I manage from my desk are located?  I can not go into that room from anywhere on the planet.”  I don’t need to be in the same building to do my job.  In my private practice, I manage and program web sites located on servers “somewhere else,” or, as we say these days, “in the cloud.” Everything is connected, from everywhere.  As the phone company ads used to say, in the quaint old roaring 1990s, “FAX from the beach?  You will…”  FAX is  pretty much dead, but you can browse the ‘Net, email, or upload your report from the beach or anywhere, as long as your batteries hold out.

The Meat Crisis

Another effect of the virus pandemic showcases a major problem with food production in America:  meat packing plants are sweatshops, with low-paid, overworked staff in crowded working conditions.  Many have been shut down or are in the midst of a major reorganization because of the high percentage of infections and death among the workforce.  Subsequently, meat prices have skyrocketed.  Or, so we’ve been told.  We haven’t visited the meat market or the fresh or frozen meat aisles in the supermarket for many years, and haven’t intentionally ordered meat dishes at restaurants for nearly as long.

Yes, you can live and thrive without bacon for breakfast, baloney sandwiches for lunch, and steak, chicken, pork chops, or hamburgers for supper.  To help break the habit, there are several look-alike substitutes available in the produce aisles:  seitan or soy sausages, textured vegetable protein “ground beef,” and meatless patties flavored and colored to look and taste like hamburgers or chicken.  And, for those vegans who eschew any animal products, dairy-free cheeses and yogurts, along with “milk” in the dairy case made from almonds, coconuts, soy, or oats.

Honey-sesame tofu, with brown rice, just like the restaurant, but manageable serving size.

But, we prefer to cook plant-based recipes from regions of the planet where meat is either scarce or avoided for religious reasons.   We’re not purists by any means: we continue to consume eggs, along with yogurt and cheese made from cow, sheep, and goat milk, wear leather shoes and belts, and aren’t particular about other byproducts of the food animal industry, since substitutes aren’t readily available.  And, of course, dairy products don’t involve killing living beings, though their living conditions are most certainly not ideal in the industrial food production system.  We know how to use tofu, aquafaba, chia, flax, and other egg substitutes used for binders, ground nuts and seeds as substitutes for cheese, and have tried plant-based cultured products. But, we live in a country where the dairy industry is subsidized, so cost is also a factor in the food budget that takes precedence over any objections we have to factory farming practice as applied to animal husbandry.  Even if prices rise significantly, there just aren’t enough of those substitute items in the supply pipeline for large numbers of the population to switch.  We’re even experiencing a shortage of beans, the universal hedge against food shortages overall, but, for us, a daily staple.  Should the meat crisis deepen, I’d suggest everyone check out the many world cuisines that provide flavorful dishes that don’t contain meat, and learn to cook them for at least a few meals a week.

Home-made pita, baked on a stone in a very hot oven.